My wife Patti went to the UPS Store to ship a package with a CCRNO return address label on it. The clerk, a young woman in her twenties, pointed to the CCRNO red dove and exclaimed: “CCRNO…I know what that is. I love that!” Apparently, she used to attend events with the CCRNO youth group and really enjoyed it. This kind of incident has occurred many times over the 50-year history of CCRNO, since its beginning in 1969. As we celebrate this “Golden Anniversary,” let’s look back, remember, and give thanks.
So how did things get started, anyway? Fr. Harold Cohen, SJ, was prayed with to be baptized in the Spirit on Easter Monday, April 7, 1969, by Jim Warnke, a Fordham student who wanted to join the Jesuits. Fr. Cohen had been assigned to interview him. Upon discovering that the young man was in a charismatic prayer group, Fr. Cohen decided to ask Warnke to pray over him. After an initial protest that “he had never prayed over someone for this before,” the Fordham student laid hands on the head of the kneeling Fr. Cohen and said a simple prayer. Warnke never did join the Jesuits, but that prayer had some far-reaching effects, changing Fr. Cohen’s life and therefore countless others in the process!
Just a week or so after this prayer, Fr. Cohen attended what was then called the Third International Catholic Pentecostal Convention at the University of Notre Dame. Fr. Cohen came from Louisiana. A former Duquesne co-ed named Patti Gallagher attended from Michigan. And I, at that time a graduate student at University of Iowa, traveled to the Convention as well. None of the three of us knew it in April 1969, but our lives would, before very long, be connected in a most amazing way!
Soon after he got back from that conference, Fr. Cohen began the first Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) prayer meeting in the New Orleans area. It was at the home of Mrs. Louise Sayer on Arabella Street in the Uptown or University area, not far from Loyola. This would have been in late April or early May 1969, thus making this year the 50th anniversary of CCR in the New Orleans area. Alma (Puddin ) McNamara attended those early prayer meetings and described them in her testimony at the CCRNO prayer meeting at St Benilde on May 8, 2019. It wasn’t long before this prayer meeting, which was on Thursday night, moved to Loyola’s Danna Center, in what was then called the Upper Lounge (now the Audubon Room). It was held there from May 1969 until around May of 1971.
The Thursday night prayer meeting soon grew too large for the Upper Lounge, which only held about 300, so Fr. Cohen met with Archbishop Hannan and got his permission to hold prayer meetings in any parish church of the Archdiocese, with the permission of the pastor. For a few weeks it was held at St. Angela Merici in Metairie, then moved to St. Edward the Confessor in June of 1971, and from there to various other sites before settling at St. Benilde, where it has been for nearly 40 years.
Fr. Cohen served as Head of CCRNO for 15 years, from 1969 to 1984. During those years, and due primarily to Fr. Cohen’s apostolate, the influence of CCRNO grew and expanded locally and regionally. A Pastoral Team was formed in August of 1970 to help serve and foster the growth of the CCR. Archbishop Hannan appointed Fr. Cohen as his Liaison to the CCR, thereby making New Orleans one of the first dioceses to have a priest with this designation.
Fr. Cohen, aided by the Pastoral Team, served the Gulf South region by bringing together regional leaders from time to time for teaching and formation and also by traveling and speaking at various retreats and Days of Renewal in the region.
Fr. Cohen also served actively on the national level. He was a member of the National Advisory Committee for the CCR from 1970 to 1973 and of the National Service Committee from 1973 to 1981. Fr. Cohen was used by the Lord to bring the CCR and to minister in other countries around the world. Because he was fluent in Spanish, Fr. Cohen was able to preach and minister extensively in Central and South America.
It is obviously impossible to capsulize 50 years of ministry – prayer meetings, youth ministry, healing services, Life in the Spirit Seminars, retreats, Days of Renewal, Conferences, etc., etc. – to multiplied thousands of people in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, State of Louisiana, and the Gulf South region, into a few words (as I am foolishly trying to do here!). Allow me to illustrate, by just a few examples, the far-reaching and ongoing effects of CCRNO.
Mary Di Padova Krentel, a head nurse at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, recently attended a 35-year reunion cruise with some high school classmates. She related her surprise when these classmates, many of whom she had not seen since high school, proceeded to tell her that what they remembered most about her was her involvement in the CCRNO youth ministry and prayer meetings. Mary was amazed…she had not realized the effect that CCRNO had on her friends, nor that they would still be aware of it after 35 years!
Ethel Ganuchau, another friend, related that about thirty years ago she felt the Lord leading her to form a prayer group for youngsters of elementary-school age. After some initial resistance, she did obey the Lord’s prompting. The group flourished and bore amazing fruit! At one point, Ethel invited Fr. Cohen to come and pray over the young people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Those young people continued to grow and mature in the Spirit and are now training their own children to love and serve the Lord. One of the young girls in Ethel’s prayer group, Liz Kelley, is now married to our son, Mark. Needless to say, Patti and I are very happy that Ethel started that children’s prayer group!
A number of years ago, Patti and I spotted a poster with photos of all the seminarians for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. We did a rough count and found that about half the seminarians pictured had come through the CCRNO youth ministry or had some other contact with CCRNO. Countless are the vocations to marriage, the diaconate, priesthood, and religious life that have come about through the work of the Holy Spirit in CCRNO. We also rejoice that many other ministries such as Closer Walk Radio and TV Ministry, Magnificat Ministry to Catholic Women and the Monday Night Disciples came into being because their founders were baptized in the Spirit at a CCRNO function…all to the glory of God!
I’m sure many who read this could add interesting anecdotes and examples of their own. Only in heaven will there be enough time for all the stories! Please join me and everyone associated with CCRNO in giving great thanks and praise to God for this mighty visitation of the Holy Spirit we have experienced and especially all the graces and blessings He has given to – and through – CCRNO! Amen! We can only say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name be the glory!”